A Life of Listening

Leighton put his hand on my friend’s knee and encouraged him; my friend had just broken into warranted tears as the rest of us watched. At our denomination’s general assembly, pastors under 40 gathered to meet this man, evangelist, father, husband, and soon-to-be-friend. He asked us questions that I cannot remember. We went in a circle, and when my friend broke down Leighton stopped the meeting, with his silence and kind sigh, and focused on my friend. He asked him a question or two. He spoke words of light and life, as gentle and profound as I have ever heard, and he paused. In so doing, he helped us pause. We who know how to enter a hospital room but are uncomfortable when one of our brothers is so honest about the struggles of the pastor’s life. Leighton paused. And now I know that he was listening – to my friend and his tears, and to the Holy Spirit.

So when my old mentor put my name in as a reader of this book I accepted. None of the officials know that I have never finished one of these on time or written a blog about them read by more than 10 folks (I’m now 1 for 6 in pre-reading a book before publication). I finished A Life of Listening in a week and the reason is that it is easy to read – though sometimes laughter and tears get in the way. And I have never said or written that about a book before – Christian or non, fiction or essay. I laughed a bit (not a lot, but his subtle humor is fantastic). I wept a bit (not a lot because the medium speed of the book kept me from sinking into the sad season).

Initially, some of the travel and celebrity aspects of an itinerant evangelist weren’t interesting to me. But Leighton presents these things as they happened – neither hiding his life nor holding it up and asking it to shine brighter than it does.

There is only one other Christian author I can read more than one chapter of at a time, and I’m a 42 year old pastor who reads a lot. A Life of Listening flows delightfully as Leighton tells about listening to, and learning to listen to, the Holy Spirit as he moves through life amidst many other strong and pushy voices.

I too long to discern the voice of the Spirit amidst the many competing voices on Twitter, in my family, and certainly in my congregation. Leighton’s book calmed me and helped me, through the lens of his life, to discern this voice. I highly recommend A Life of Listening for a number of reasons. One, it is as readable of a book as I have come across in a long, long time. Two, this is what followers of Jesus do – we discern the voice of the Spirit amidst the chaos and detritus of the fall and our limits – and Leighton is a terrific partner in this travel. Three, it drew me to prayer that heals the wounds of some of those old voices. And finally, I know that this man’s life and writing match up – which leads me to want to learn from him.

Jotter

Bruce Daube loves this pen. It is classic, reliable, enjoyable to write with, and to click. Bryan Fitagerald said, “It’s hard to beat the action of a Parker Jotter.” I agree. Many doctors and dentists go with a Zebra F301. Makes sense. Similar reasoning; looks more durable; but the jotter is without peer.

It appears in many movies. I’m not sure the first one I noticed, but it may have been “7”. in the first 30 minutes you see Morgan Freeman’s jotter 10 times – his gun once, his badge once, his switchblade once… but the iconic black and silver pen? Ten times.

Hollywood utilizes it to help us see a noble character. We might miss them. The jotter is a small clue. “They are more noble than you may think…” “Keep an eye on them.” “You can trust them more than you might think you can.”

Current list of films with a jotter, employed to help us note the virtue or dignity of a character: 7, two popes, enemy of the state (an anti-reference), the firm, the rainmaker, karate kid, zodiac, heat, the irishman, the longest yard (latest), shawshank.

Jesus Storybook Bible Time UPDATED

9:30AM. The links below are recurring links, so they will work again tomorrow.

You can utilize Facebook Live, but if you want your kids to be able to see themselves, take a minute and download Zoom (free) and they will be able to interact with me a bit on there. Zoom is like Facetime for lots of people. They will be able to talk, so we will see if I can manage their chatter!

Matt Blazer is inviting you to a scheduled Zoom meeting.

Topic: Storytime
Time: Mar 16, 2020 09:30 AM Eastern Time (US and Canada)
Every day, until Mar 29, 2020, 14 occurrence(s)

Please download and import the following iCalendar (.ics) files to your calendar system.
Daily: https://zoom.us/meeting/uJYpf-itqTIq-2q2VMtAqEaO3d52YMW-Hw/ics?icsToken=98tyKuyqqjMrH9OcsFz9a7YvW4X5b8_Ikzwcu_FrsQvEEgVSTVDyY7B7H4UyOM-B

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Some Covid/Corona/Church thoughts

My first thought is to parents and those who are afraid. Your fear is legitimate, and it is something to wrestle with directly in prayer, in conversation, and in action (at some point we must disconnect from instant media, especially in a moment of great fear). As I hit “publish” I’m then going to unplug (you heard it here first) while I go get my kids from school and hear from them about what it was like today.

My way of falling into this hole, both because of how I view the world and because of my role as pastor, is to try to help.

I’ll keep it brief and let you read the things I have been reading if you want. Last week I read a long article from a pastor in Hong Kong both about dealing with widespread sickness and doing so with a church in mind. It’s long, but very Gospel centered and thoughtful. Also, he has been through seasons like the one we are now going through multiple times.

Andy Crouch is a brilliant reporter, writer and musician. He summarizes both a lot of the thoughts in the above-referenced article, and the reality for Christians in terms of engagement and the hope we have as agents of the love of Jesus. It is for “Christian Leaders“, but the way he frames both the cultural moment and the opportunity for Christians is spot on.

And finally, I really like Sally Lloyd-Jones. I do not think she is the best children’s author about the Old Testament in light of Jesus. I think she is the best author about the the Old Testament in light of Jesus. I have given away more copies of her books than probably any other. She wrote a nice piece for parents about speaking with their kids about our current moment.

Shabbat

I’m taking five weeks off from pastoral ministry, and I wonder your reaction? I’m certain there is a spectrum, between zero-interest, meh, huh? huh, and how old is he again? You’re welcome to continue reading wherever you fall on this particular spectrum.

I’m doing it for a number of reasons, personally and professionally. Our personnel committee approved it last year and our elders this year. The elders had one caveat: “call it a mini-sabbatical” and not a “sabbatical”.

They understand two things that I long for you to understand. One, this increases the chances that I will last as a pastor; two, pastoring is a heavy job. I have many successful friends and I ask them about work. Their jobs are more complex than mine. They work for global, publicly traded companies that makes engines in everything, or software for everyone, or manage the finances of some of the most financially successful people in the world. They laugh when I ask about the heaviness of their jobs compared with mine. I don’t want to solve the problems on their desk and they don’t want to solve mine. But each of them has been an elder in a local church and know the weight of the job I have. It is heavy.

If you want to pray for me, pray that the Holy Spirit will help me care without carrying. We have about 200 members here at CPC and I worry about the kids, the parents, the friends, and the co-workers of those 200. That is not my concern and yet in my strength, empathy, therein is an achilles – I get worn out in the concern for the 1000 people I know of in and around this area. It is good that I care as much as I do, it is not sustainable that I carry the weight of 1000 souls with me.

On the professional side – I have been working for a church since 2001 without a break. That isn’t the problem though. The problem is being in charge. For those of you who are the head of your organization, you know what I am talking about. For those of you who are not – it is an entirely different kind of chair, altogether. “It’s an entirely different kind of chair.”

Personally, it has not been easy. Most of you know that both I and my wife have had cancer and while we have been declared cancer-free, it will linger for the rest of our lives through far, tests, anger and sadness. There are other things I want to both set down and deal with – spiritually and emotionally. Things I do not want to carry into pastoral ministry. I had a lot of challenges growing up. If you have heard me preach, you likely have some sense of this.

I won’t have my phone, but I’m confident in our elders should you need anything while I’m away. I won’t be checking email, but I’m confident you kind of hate email anyway. I won’t be on social media, but I’m confident you weren’t waiting on my next tweet.

I believe this is a move of health for me, my family, and for the church I am so honored to serve. See you soon.

Flint, Syria, and Simsbury

As humans we care about injustice, pain, and suffering – even when it is far from us. Some of us connect emotionally. Others do not, but we still recognize that we have some power to help. We have limits to how much we can do. For this reason I often hesitate to jump on the “We should all ______” bandwagons. Nevertheless, there are real problems in the world that we can support. In Matthew 23, Jesus offers an eerie teaching that states His followers are those who inexorably helped the widow, the orphan, the one without clothes or food. We move to help when and where we can.

I have a good friend pastoring in Flint, Michigan. If this particular crisis stirs your heart, please consider praying and/or giving. Pete Scribner, their pastor, has a wonderful blend of justice and a desire to love well – in a sustainable way that begins the loving work of evangelism. He and I served together in Saint Louis for years and he is a dear brother.

When the Refugee crisis first swelled from a news standpoint, I researched the organizations in CT that can actually take in refugees. They needed end-tables at the time. Do you see how giant these problems are? I contacted a few folks who know more about this than I do, and it was not clear that we had a role as a church to me. I felt helpless, even as I prayed and gave a bit of money to an organization on the ground.

Our denomination has done good work getting folks on the ground providing tangible support and also some medium-length sustainable efforts to help the refugees.

Here is an email explaining two of the ways we are serving (and I say ‘we’ because if you give to Covenant Presbyterian Church, we have already sent along some money and that came from our general offering)

“Many of our churches have asked how they can help the refugees from Syria and other parts of the persecuted Middle East. I wanted to let you know how you can get involved through EPC efforts. Currently, we have two direct paths:

  1. EPC Syrian Refugee Relief Fund
    1. Provide Bibles in local language
    2. Provide food, clothing, medical, and discipleship materials to refugees
    3. Send language-fluent EPC disciple-makers to spend time with refugees
  2. Blanket Them With Hope Project (In this link is also a video about current efforts)
    1. Provide funding to offer training to refugee women in skills to make blankets for their family and income opportunity
    2. “Purchase” blankets from refugee women to cover the cost of the blanket and provide some income. Blankets would then be distributed locally to those in need.

 

 

 

Love of Neighbor and Safety

I just finished a very very well-written piece by a pastor in Memphis, Tennessee. He is a heady fellow and very good with words. My encouragement is that you read slowly. I had to.

With one exception (literally, one sentence…) I whole-heartedly recommend all of this as the Christian perspective. The reason: Pastor Huffman lives easily in the tension of safety (which matters) and love for stranger/alien/neighbor. Both matter. This is a dialectic matter – not all politically charged issues are. Neither ‘side’ is unbiblical, off their proverbial rocker, etc. Many of the individuals on both sides are; such is humanity.

This will not be solved quickly or with Bible verses. We read the Bible, but verses should not be used to batter the other side. At least not with this particular issue.

Immigration as a spiritual issue is close to you. Whether you live in the city of Saint Louis where 60 languages are spoken within a 3 miles radium or the suburbs of Hartford, walled in by ‘mountains’ and slowly connected by old cattle trails. There are neighbors for us to love. Safety matters and so does our belief that Jesus loved the stranger and calls us to the same.